What is IoT?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is exactly what it’s name suggests: physical objects, or “things”, which are fitted with software, sensors, and various other technologies that allow them to connect and exchange information with other objects or systems via the internet. With broadband internet becoming cheaper and more widely available and technology costs continually decreasing, almost anything with an on/off switch can be connected to the internet now. Everything from coffee makers, refrigerators, microwaves, doorbells, trash cans, and wearable devices can now be plugged into the internet to provide real time updates and interactions. This expansion also applies to the individual components of complex machines. For instance, the jet engine of an airplane can be fitted with feedback sensors or the drill of an oil rig. All in an attempt to monitor, in real time, how efficiently those components are operating.
There’s a lot of buzz currently surrounding IoT, and the term is relatively new, but what it refers to has actually been around for quite some time. Machine-to-machine communication has been around since the 70’s and was the foundational principle upon which the internet was built. What’s changed recently is the ease in which you can implement these types of services. An IoT solution can be viewed as any service that offers a seamlessly integrated bundle of technologies that companies can utilize to problem solve and/or create new organizational value. These services will typically involve a wide array of sensors.
You can look to the food industry for a common example of IoT solutions solving problems. When storing food, if the temperature of a refrigerator falls below a certain threshold then all the food stored there needs to be thrown out, at a great cost to the business. To ensure that wouldn’t happen, restaurants and grocery stores would have employees routinely check the temperature manually and record the results throughout the day by hand. This solution is costly, time consuming, and prone to human error. Using sensors that monitor temperature in real time and send out alerts once temperature falls below a certain threshold is a much more efficient way to solve this problem. Employee time can be spent on more essential duties and the risk of error is greatly reduced. All while the accuracy of mission critical tasks increases while costs decrease.
IoT solutions can also boost a company's value in addition to solving core day to day problems. Let’s use a car dealership as an example. Throughout any given day, a dealership may have dozens of cars that are being repaired, detailed, or shipped between locations. That’s a lot of assets to keep track of. The dealership could dedicate a person or team to track each asset but that would be just as costly and error prone as the food industry example above. IoT services can make this process more efficient by adding sensors to the cars that track each one through all potential stages (mechanic shop, detailing, shipping, etc.) and sends out alerts once an asset is in one stage for too long. This would identify inefficiencies much quicker and at a greatly reduced cost to the dealership, increasing the value that they bring to potential customers by streamlining their internal processes. These basic examples are useful in understanding what IoT was designed for but the next logical question is, what is the current state of IoT solutions for enterprise businesses?
IoT Industrial Solutions
For the majority of large companies, the ability to accurately predict outcomes can mean the difference between sinking or rising to the top of an industry. By compiling data from a wide array of sensors either on or in machines, machine learning algorithms can “learn” what’s normal for a particular machine and detect when something abnormal is about to occur. These customized platforms can detect the slightest changes and warn businesses of developing malfunctions. This is done in real time with the results displayed in a matter of seconds. Being able to predict when a machine needs repairing translates to millions of dollars saved throughout the course of year for enterprise organizations.
IoT Cloud Solutions
Cloud computing and IoT are two technologies that will remain intertwined moving forward with one providing the other a platform for success and growth. Once you have a series of internet connected devices that need to communicate with one another the big question is, how will these devices remain interconnected? The answer lies in cloud services. Someone has to compile, manage, and secure all of this data for multiple users to access. In addition to providing infrastructure, cloud computing provides several core value adds for IoT solutions.
IoT devices need to store lots of information in order to provide value to users. IoT in the cloud provides customers with a much larger space that can handle additional data per the users demands, immediately alleviating any storage concerns.
All the data provided by IoT devices needs increased performance in order to connect and interact with one another. IoT in the cloud provides the connectivity necessary for this to happen at the pace needed to be effective.
Utilizing cloud computing infrastructure allows businesses to scale their storage as needed if they choose. Paying for the amount of storage you consume each month as opposed to trying to predict future storage needs is an appealing options for companies looking to cut costs.
IoT Security Solutions
Just like any new technology, there are pros and cons that must be considered prior to implementation. The Internet of Things is promoted by manufacturers as a means to make the day to day minutiae that both individuals and companies experience more streamlined and easier to track by connecting devices to the internet. While this is often the case, it also opens up those devices to user privacy and data security issues due to the number of malicious actors on the internet. According to a recent study, nearly half of all companies in the United States that utilize IoT devices were hit by a security breach in 2017. Clearly, there is a growing need to ensure that IoT devices are secure. So what are some of the best ways to address this issue?
Whenever there is innovation, manufacturers tend to rush their products into the market in an attempt to be ahead of the curve. Before making the decision to implement IoT devices and stake your company's reputation on them, a good first step is to consult with an expert in the field and ensure that you have completed relevant research on the security issues that pertain to your unique IoT solution. That way, you’ll have all the information you need to make an informed decision on which of the following options may be the best fit for you.
Secure Your Network
This can be accomplished by implementing traditional endpoint security features. Anti-virus, anti-malware, firewalls, intrusion prevention and detection systems are an essential starting point.
An additional step you can take to secure IoT devices is by adding multiple user agreement features. Some examples include two factor authentication, digital certificates, or biometrics. The more strategies you employ, the more secure each device becomes.
Utilizing cryptographic algorithms and fully encrypted key lifecycle management processes is a strong way to prevent IoT data breaches. This gives both the company and end user of an IoT device additional piece of mind that their personal identifiable information is safe and secure.
We’re currently just scratching the surface on what IoT can do for businesses. All of the sensors currently collecting and interpreting data will continue to do so in the coming years, exponentially increasing the amount of raw data available for processing. This massive influx of data will continue to improve machine learning which will create countless opportunities for savvy companies to reap the benefits.
In addition to monitoring machines, IoT solutions will continue to improve their ability to monitor us, providing health data on a scale never before seen thanks to the use of wearable biometric devices. Our ability to predict outbreaks of diseases in addition to proactively addressing health issues will become more accurate and refined.
IoT solutions are also providing first responders with the information they need to prevent crimes or accidents before they even happen. Data from noise sensors, cameras, and even trash bins can be fed into machine learning algorithms to uncover preconditions for accidents or crimes. Of course, there are privacy concerns about using this data in law enforcement.
IoT is worth the hype that it's received in the press as of late. It’s not just an empty buzzword with no real world applications. Much of the major societal changes we’ve seen have been driven by technologies that incorporate IoT. This looks to be the norm as we move into the future. We’re limited only by our imagination when it comes to what we can accomplish with the use of IoT.